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Tales From the Tiger

 

Australian Infantryman's Combat Badge
Opening of the Toilet


© Ron Shambrook AM
2IC B Coy & OC C Coy
1st Tour

 

Author: Ron Shambrook

The early days and weeks of establishing the main battalion base at what we then called Ap An Phu just north of Nui Dat (D company’s location) were really hectic with so much to do in the new base area as well as operations away from the base and local patrolling. Digging defensive positions, erecting defensive barbed wire, sandbagging and erecting 16’x16’ tents for accommodation also took much time from the already tired troops. Each company established a number of locations for troops to shower using canvas shower buckets. The early latrines were open pits and sapling railings for ‘seats’.

In late June/early July 1966, my platoon, the QM Platoon, was the first location in the main battalion base to have a more permanent toilet built. The Engineers came with a large auger operated from the back of a truck proceeded to dig deep into the rich red soil. A concrete slab was laid over the hole/s and four galvanized metal toilet canopy seats placed on top of the concrete. The toilet was completed with galvanized corrugated iron on half walls and roof and the door and upper sections were completed with insect screening.

Father John Williams Blessing the toiletWhilst the construction was underway I decided to enlist the aid of the Bandmaster Bob Taylor to gather back a number of his band from their other task, that of stretcher bearers and come down and play a few melodies. I also approached the Battalion Padre Father John Williams and asked that he officiate.

My purpose to have an opening ceremony for the toilet was to have a little fun and hopefully reduce the tensions some of the soldiers were experiencing. On opening afternoon we had a few beers the band played a few numbers and then we had the “official opening”. I called on the band to play Bless this House and on completion asked the Reverend Farter Williams to officially open the building and sprinkle. He went inside and sprinkled with good accuracy. All enjoyed the low key light hearted activity.

Father John Williams LetterA couple of weeks later Father Williams showed me a note he had received from his Bishop in Australia. Someone must have written up the story and sent it to a Sydney newspaper. There before me was a newspaper clipping of our toilet opening event attached to a note from the Bishop admonishing John Williams and stating “that he thought he should have had more important things to do than open dunnies.”

In September 1982 I was the Controller of the Opening Ceremony of the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. A few days later I received a note from Adelaide from Father John Williams which read “Ron, Saw the opening of the games on TV. Great Show – congratulations. Almost as good as the show you put on when we ‘opened that toilet in SVN. Signed “Farter Williams.”

 

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